FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
State Rep. Greg Vitali
Bill would ban more state forest gas drilling leases
HARRISBURG, March 9 – State Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, announced at a Capitol news conference today that he has introduced legislation, H.B. 150, which would put a three-year moratorium on additional state forestland being leased for Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.
"I'm pleased that Governor Corbett did not propose leasing more state forestland for gas drilling during his budget address Tuesday," Vitali said. "But that doesn't mean we are out of the woods yet. As we move forward in crafting a state budget, there will be pressure to lease more state forests."
The state has already leased about half of the 1.5 million acres of state forest that lay above the Marcellus Shale formation to gas drillers. Vitali's bill would not stop drilling on land the state has already leased, or on privately owned land.
His bill has 76 co-sponsors and bipartisan support. About a dozen legislators and representatives of 15 environmental groups attended the news conference to show their support for the legislation.
A version of the bill passed the House last legislative session on a 157-33 vote, but it died in the Senate. Former Gov. Ed Rendell in October signed an executive order that put a moratorium on additional gas leases in state forests, but Corbett can rescind it at any time.
"The moratorium is based on science," said former state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary John Quigley, who was in charge of Pennsylvania's state forests when Rendell signed the executive order. "It is based on the environment, it is based on the economy and it is based on the quality of life for Pennsylvanians."
Quigley said state forests are critical to Pennsylvania's forest-products industry, which is responsible for about 90,000 jobs, and tourism, the state's second-largest industry.
State Rep. Steve Santarsiero, D-Bucks, said he's supporting Vitali's legislation.
"I want to be able to tell my children that I stood up for you and for future generations of Pennsylvanians," Santarsiero said.
Representatives from PennFuture, the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society and other environmental groups spoke in support of Vitali's legislation. Kevin Heatley, an environmental scientists and member of Responsible Drilling Alliance, said the construction of well pads, along with access roads, pipelines and other infrastructure, will have a significant impact on Pennsylvania's forests.
"There are massive ecological consequences associated with the decision to convert one of the largest unbroken expanses of forest cover in the eastern United States into an industrial zone," Heatley said.
Responsible Drilling Alliance has started an online petition in support of Vitali's bill. It can be found at www.sosinpa.org.